Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Keith Otten Live in NYC 1/31/10

New York audiences these days probably know Keith Otten best as the offhandedly fiery guitarist in Nashville gothic rockers Ninth House.Yet over the past twenty years, he’s built a reputation as one of those “best guitarists you’ve never heard of” in projects as diverse as pioneering 90s Britrock band Feed (with Tim Butler of the Psychedelic Furs), janglepopsters Six Ways to Sunday and his own group, the frequently magnificent, anthemic Gotham 4. Downtown early Sunday evening at a onetime Chinatown mob bar, he packed the place – on the coldest day of the year, no less – and turned in an often fascinating solo acoustic mix of material from all over the map.

Otten’s pensive, sometimes ominous original songs blend the classic with the modern: anthemic, melodic echoes of artsy bands like the Church, Radiohead and sometimes Oasis mingle with reverberating open chords. He has as much of a thing for Americana as he has for British bands; the Jimmy Page thing never reared its head, this being an acoustic show. Producer Eric Ambel famously remarked how a song needs to be good by itself before it can ever sound good with a band, and these held their own. An apprehensive new one about a pre-apocalyptic Manhattan opened as blue-sky country, but then the clouds and the complexity came sweeping in. The ever-widening circle of chords on the chorus of Long Enough (a popular one in his Gotham 4 days) were more than enough to keep the crowd guessing. He took that device to the extreme, but subtly, with another new one, Sweetly (there’s a stripped-down version on his myspace), bedeviling the audience with a long fade out, then suddenly bringing it back up again before reverting to tease mode. Ditch, a track from his most recent studio effort, took on a stinging minor-key garage rock feel, having been freed from the U2 style arrangement the band gave it. Otten closed with a remarkably flamencoish version of his mighty White Rabbit-inflected anthem 3001, its underlying intensity enhanced by the acoustic arrangement. Otten’s next New York show with Ninth House is at Hank’s on Feb 27 at 11; his next solo gig is March 15 at Sidewalk. Great players don’t get much more under the radar than this.

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February 1, 2010 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/3/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #512:

The Gotham 4 – 3001

Ninth House guitarist Keith Otten originally released this towering, savage, flamenco-inflected anthem on the 1997 debut cd by his Kotten project, but it’s his 2006 two-guitar version with this later band that really burns down the house. Unlike what you might think, it’s not a sci-fi epic; the title refers to the number of days in a marriage.

March 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ninth House at Hank’s, Brooklyn NY 11/8/08

LJ Murphy wasn’t the only one making a triumphant return to the New York stage Saturday night. Long-running rockers Ninth House’s first show in a few months was one of their best in recent memory, maybe their best since around 2002. Now on their sixth guitarist in ten years (two came and went in less than a year), their latest is former Gotham 4 frontman Keith Otten. One of the finest relatively unheralded players around, he’s a keeper, and the crowd picked up on that from the first fiery chords of the band’s usual opening number, Long Stray Whim. The title is somewhat misleading: there’s absolutely nothing whimsical about this scorching escape anthem, and Otten rose to the occasion. Like East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys, Otten’s playing often takes on a disdainful, sarcastic edge, which fits perfectly into many of frontman/bassist Mark Sinnis’ punk-inspired anthems. When it came time for the solo, he pretty much replicated the noisily sardonic one that Dave Cavaliere tossed off in the original. Likewise, Otten brought a majestic grandeur to the catchy Nashville gothic anthem Your Past May Come Back to Me, much as the band’s guitarist of the time (Kurt Leege, now with the sensational System Noise) would do. Switching furiously between pedals and his tone controls between each song, he gave each a nuance and individuality that’s been missing from this band for more than a few years.

 

The band – now a trio with just Sinnis and his brother Francis on drums – have also taken it to the next level. They transformed their song Skeletons from a wannabe Cure hit to a dark, pulsing blues, and followed Otten’s lead when he lent an eerie Bauhaus edge to the bitter country-inflected ballad Mistaken for Love: “She was my fucking enemy, I shouldn’t have  fallen for her!” Sinnis snarled. They closed with a cover of Blue Train by Johnny Cash, transforming that one into a Social Distortion-esque stomp. Nice to see this crew back with considerably more than their usual vengeance. Sinnis plays a solo show at midnight at Teneleven on Sun Nov 15.

November 11, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Gotham 4 at Club Midway, NYC 7/31/07

You have to wonder why these guys do it. Is it the money? They brought a good crowd, but let’s face it, if everybody in the band got to bring home fifty bucks apiece they would have been lucky.

Is it the fame? Hardly. Everybody in this loud, nebulously 90s, two-guitar unit has been around the block a few times, and as we all know, you don’t get signed to a record label these days unless your parents arrange for it, or you’re college-age and cute. These guys’ frontman was once in a band with one of the Psychedelic Furs that came thisclose to getting signed; the bass player is a ubiquitous type who had the good sense to catch on with a couple of other acts (Randi Russo and Erica Smith, to be specific) who seem to be right on the verge. Otherwise, the Gotham 4 are barely distinguishable from the literally hundreds of acts playing this town in any given week.

Maybe it’s that they’re clearly having fun, at least that’s how it seemed tonight. Their lead singer/lead guitarist has become something of a belter lately, and it served him well, giving the songs a welcome edge. The bass player was bobbing and weaving around a corner of the stage in Spinal Tap mode, the rhythm player delivering a steady blast of chordal fury, the drummer having fun throwing in some neat rolls and fills to keep everyone on their toes. And the audience loved it. They opened with a brief number that pretty much encapsulates what they do, totally early 90s anthemic Britrock with more than a nod and a wink to Led Zeppelin, especially where the solos are concerned. But they’re far more melodic than, say, the Verve or Ride or early Radiohead, more like Oasis without all the stolen Beatles licks.

The high point of the night was a long, flamenco-colored number called 3001, building from a White Rabbit-style, staccato verse to an explosive chorus, to a long solo where the lead player got to stretch out while the bass player did his best John Paul Jones imitation. Later songs gave off echoes of U2, the Furs (big surprise), the Who circa Who’s Next and (sorry, guys) Oasis in their prime. Their lone cover was an attempt to rock out the Stones country classic Dead Flowers. One can only wonder how many other unsung bands tonight gave it their all and received as warm a response from such an unlikely large, enthusiastic crowd.

August 1, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment